By Mike Miller
St. Louis, MO
Twitter: @MikeMillerSTL

The first pitch of the evening left Dakota Hudson’s right hand and landed in Yadier Molina’s mitt at precisely 6:45 p.m., a ball caught just off the outside corner to start Monday’s series opener against the Washington Nationals.

For the team at FOX Sports Midwest, the night started much earlier.

To get a St. Louis Cardinals game on the air — and ensure things run smoothly once it is — a full day’s worth of preparation goes into lifting the operation off the ground. From there, a team of approximately 50 people work to piece together the story of each game as it happens.

It’s controlled chaos as the FOX Sports Midwest crew reacts to the action and weaves the audio and visual elements into a television broadcast package that reaches hundreds of thousands of fans across the region each night. Whenever — and wherever — the Cardinals are on the field, there’s an army of crew members working behind the scenes to bring the game to viewers.

“I think people would be shocked to see how many people are involved in the presentation of pregame, the game, postgame,” FOX Sports Midwest reporter Jim Hayes said. “It takes a lot of people.”

On this night, play-by-play announcer Dan McLaughlin and analyst Jim Edmonds are working in the booth. McLaughlin, a St. Louis native, is in his 22nd season as the play-by-play voice for Cardinals television broadcasts, while Edmonds, a 17-year Major League Baseball veteran, is in his fourth season in the booth. Edmonds is one of four in-game analysts the network uses for telecasts, bolstering a roster that includes Brad Thompson, Rick Horton and Tim McCarver.

For Edmonds, a Cardinals Hall of Famer, the series against the Nationals included three of the approximately 50 games he works each summer.

“I have a lot of fun with it,” Edmonds said. “I started wanting to do this because I wanted to keep my family around the game and I enjoyed it. I’m liking it more and more every day. It’s been awesome.”

Edmonds’ focus is lending his expertise, especially situationally, as moments warrant. It’s McLaughlin who’s tasked with carrying the action for all 162 games. That starts with background research on the players long before he makes the trip to Busch Stadium.

On Monday, McLaughlin arrived at the ballpark at 3 p.m. for a speaking engagement, one of the 30-plus assignments he helps with during the season. Once that wrapped, it was back to preparing for the series opener against Washington.

“I try to go to the clubhouse if I can, visit with players, visit with (manager) Mike Shildt,” McLaughlin said. “Then I come up here (to the broadcast booth) and put my scorecard together. In September, it takes even longer with the call-ups.”

By 6 p.m., it’s time to finalize preparations for the live broadcast. McLaughlin dons his blazer, grabs his microphone and takes his position at the front of the booth. At 6:10 p.m., he records the segment that will lead off the live broadcast. On this night, the big story is the availability of closer Carlos Martinez, who missed Sunday’s series finale against the Milwaukee Brewers with an illness.

McLaughlin throws it to field level, where Hayes offers a hopeful, timely update on Martinez’s likelihood to play.

“That’s good news,” McLaughlin says. “We hope to see Carlos at the back end of the game tonight.”

The folks in the truck handle the package from there, putting the final pregame preparations in order as the clock nears first pitch at 6:45 p.m. The FOX Sports Midwest production truck is situated adjacent to the players’ parking lot under the Interstate 64 overpass. There, the technical crew engineers a broadcast that will reach an estimated audience of more than 310,000 viewers on Monday night.

They work in the darkened innards of the truck, where the soft glow of more than 100 screens of varying sizes light the quarters. This particular truck is only a few months old — complete with a new truck smell — and its cramped, but inviting space serves as the control room for all the action.

This is where producer Bryan Schapiro, director Tom Mee and technical director Nick Thompson orchestrate FOX Sports Midwest’s army of cameras to stitch together the story of each game. Storytelling is the primary focus for Schapiro, who calls up to the booth at 6:37 p.m. to get Edmonds’ key to the game before the telecast goes live.

At 6:40 p.m. the open — the short segment on Martinez that McLaughlin recorded with Hayes a half hour earlier — goes to air. Things are ramping up now. It’s showtime.

Martinez’s condition isn’t the only piece of news leading into the series opener. The Nationals traveled to St. Louis without manager Dave Martinez, who underwent a cardiac catheterization on Monday in Washington. That means Mee has to coordinate with one of his camera operators to find bench coach Chip Hale in the Nationals dugout. Once Hale is spotted, Mee calls over his shoulder to graphics producer Keith O’Brien, who is instructed to type in Hale’s title as “acting manager” in the graphic that will air prior to first pitch.

As soon as Hudson delivers his opening offering, the crew settles in to their routine. Each camera in the FOX Sports Midwest arsenal is identified by number on the screens in front of Mee, who calls out those numbers to Thompson as the action dictates.

“Take 5,” Mee says, directing the broadcast to air the game from Camera 5. “3 — Stay there 3 … Take 6.”

Mee has the well-rounded experience to know what he’s doing. The veteran director first worked his way into the business as a camera operator, stage manager and television producer for Minnesota Twins games before joining the Cardinals’ broadcast crew in 1988. A 12th round pick of the Atlanta Braves in 1977, Mee leans on his playing experience to anticipate moments in the game, all while giving viewers an up-close window into the action coming to life before them.

After Hudson induces an inning-ending groundout from Juan Soto to close the top half of the first, Mee instructs his remote camera operator, Phil Nichols, to run onto the field and follow Hudson into the Cardinals’ first base dugout.

Having a remote operator allows Mee to put a camera on the field, giving viewers an up-close vantage point.

“Go get him, Phil!” Mee says.

In the bottom half, Mee has even more material to work with thanks to Marcell Ozuna.

The Cardinals left fielder whips Busch Stadium into a frenzy when he mashes a letter-high fastball from Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg into the left-centerfield bleachers for a two-run homer. As fireworks pop overhead, the men in the truck call out directions to capture the moment inside of a suitable television package.

One of the voices belongs to Mark Winter, who operates the FOX Box score bug in the bottom right corner of the screen. At his fingertips, Winter has command of all the relevant nuggets of in-game stats that fans at home might find useful, such as the count and the number of outs, among other key figures. Moments after Ozuna goes deep, Winter offers up the key measurements of the blast.

“412 feet, 106 miles per hour off the bat,” Winter barks.

It’s already been a long day for crew members such as Schapiro, who arrived at the park approximately five hours before first pitch. As part of his duties, Schapiro keeps track of all the sponsorship, team and promotional elements that have to make it onto the screen during that night’s broadcast.

For this game, Schapiro has 48 elements to cross off — a typical number for most Cardinals broadcasts.

As the game carries on, and the Cardinals seize their way to a 4-2 victory, these scenes continue to play out in the truck and in the booth. At 9:50 p.m., after swinging at the second pitch he sees from none other than Martinez, Ryan Zimmerman ends the game on a sharp line out to centerfield.

The game is over, and so is another FOX Sports Midwest broadcast.